I’ve thought for years that the Steep Rock Loop Trail in the Steep Rock Preserve in Washington, CT., is one of great hiking trails in the state. It has it all – a hike up to an outlook with long views of forest and farmland, a nice mix of mature forest species, wildflowers, birds and a long section of the trail following one of the prettiest rivers in the state. It is 4 miles in all, and it will leave you with that feeling of equanimity that is so emotionally worthwhile.
I began about 11, noticing that purple trillium had gone by, but wild lily of the valley, also known as Canada mayflower, was in bloom in many large colonies. Starflower in bloom, too. Wild geranium.
Great mix of trees in the preserve; beeches, oaks, ash, maples, hickories, hemlocks, white pine among them.
The trail is nicely maintained and blazed with yellow circles about 2.5 inches in diameter. In places the trail is wide enough for two to easily walk side by side. Along the river on the way back, the trail is a dirt road shared with the occasional car. On a beautiful spring day, only three cars passed me over a period of perhaps 45 minutes.
I began my hike at the information kiosk where West Church Hill Road and River Road meet, beside the Shepaug River. The trail ascends somewhat steeply in places, descends in places, and in perhaps a little more than a mile reaches the Steep Rock outlook, elevation 776 feet, with distant views of forest and farmland and glimpses of the Shepaug below. Remembered to watch the yellow blazes closely because the trail veers to the right for the final 1/3 mile or so ascent to the lookout. This section of the trail is steep. I took a series of photos from the lookout.
Leaving the lookout, the trail splits a short distance below the summit. I took the trail to the right to continue on the loop trail. Trail to the left takes you back to West Church Hill Road. The loop trail becomes wider and passes through forest for probably 3/4 of a mile until it reaches the Hauser Footbridge spanning the Shepaug River.
The trail then follows the river back to the West Church Hill Road parking area, perhaps 2 miles. Abundant views of the river along the way, with some picnic spots along the river. Came upon a scarlet tanager as I walked this stretch. Gorgeous.
One most interesting sighting was a wildflower I could not recall having seen before. It was growing in a very small brook, maybe 10 feet from the Shepaug, on a tiny sand spit not much bigger than, say, a watermelon. It had fairly large basal leaves, a long stem without leaves, and a terminal cluster of red flowers with yellow centers. When I got home today I searched my books but could not nail down an identification. It appeared to be a primrose, but I just was not sure which one. I sent a note to my friend Bob Capers, a phd botanist. His response was intriguing. Definitely a primrose, he said, and possibly Primula japonica. Assuming the plant was growing wild, as it appeared to be, Bob thought it might be a first record of P. japonica naturalized in Connecticut. It has been documented as naturalized in Massachusetts and Vermont.